Royal Albert Hall, London
Gamblers, gangsters and nightclub singers mingle together in 1950s New York in Guys & Dolls, Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ ‘musical fable of Broadway’, which returned to London in concert form for just three performances at the Royal Albert Hall.
Directed and choreographed by Stephen Mear and featuring a talented cast of star performers accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, this production was filled with moments of sheer musical brilliance and perfectly demonstrated why, almost 70 years after its inception, Guys & Dolls is still one of the most beloved musicals ever written.
Assuming the lead role of big-time gambler Sky Masterson was acclaimed actor Adrian Lester. He is a magnetic performer with an easy charm and inexorable presence which dominated the gargantuan stage of the Royal Albert Hall effortlessly. He starred opposite Lara Pulver as Sergeant Sarah Brown, a pious missionary with a starry-eyed streak. The pair’s act one duet ‘I’ll Know’ was an early indicator of the smartly cast lovers’ compatibility.
Unfortunately, though, large script edits that were presumably implemented in an effort to increase the show’s given its scaled-down concert form meant that the interactions between Sky and Sarah felt disconnected, resulting in much of their chemistry never being given a chance to fully blossom.
Another drawback of this usually impressive show’s concert staging was that its focus was inevitably pulled away from some of the more intimate numbers, such as Sky and Sarah’s delightful first act closing duet ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’. The Royal Albert Hall’s vastness left the more intimate scenes seeming a little distant and impassive, even more so when the energetic orchestra, enthusiastically conducted by James McKeon, filled every corner of the venue with rich sound.
The evenings large group numbers however energised the space quite thrillingly. The Crapshooters’ Ballet was a vibrant, frantic sequence masterfully choreographed to both showcase the virtuosity of the ensemble and emphasise the bustling frenzy encapsulated in Loesser’s score and was undoubtedly a concert highlight. The second half’s other invigorating ensemble number, Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat was helmed by Clive Rowe with charisma and dynamism in excess.
Notwithstanding a flush of tremendous performances, the night truly belonged to actress and cabaret artiste Meow Meow, who played a terrifically funny Miss Adelaide, the sniffling fiancée of Jason Manford’s hapless crap game promoter Nathan Detroit. Perfectly balancing bawdy grit with cutesy charm, her larger than life performance commanded the stage at all times. Meow Meow’s rendition of Adelaide’s Lament, a comedic gift of a song in its own right, was an expertly mixed cocktail of neurosis, fury, and flair which encompassed the tone of the entire concert!
Reviewed by Charlotte O’Growney